Bulls

Bulls show obvious slippage, shot-hunting in ugly loss to Raptors

Bulls show obvious slippage, shot-hunting in ugly loss to Raptors

The Bulls have seemingly washed away the memory of Jimmy Butler from the United Center, but his oft-frustrated words seemed to ring through the mouth of Fred Hoiberg after their third straight loss, a 124-115 decision to the Toronto Raptors.

“We didn’t guard anybody,” Butler would usually say.

Hoiberg borrowed the phrase, as the Bulls’ obvious slippage on defense that had been masked by previous offensive excellence through their recent resurgence.

Granted, Raptors guard DeMar DeRozan was already on a Central Division tear, having just dropped 52 points on the Milwaukee Bucks, so it wasn’t difficult to foresee him delivering in a similar manner, giving the Bulls a 35-point showing.

Previously allergic to the 3-point line, DeRozan has shown an adaptability to the new way the game is played, adopting the long line into his complete offensive package.

Over the course of 48 minutes he made the Bulls feel like orphans, hitting 5 of 8 from deep, including his usual helping of attacks to the basket, going 10-for-10 from the free-throw line.

The Bulls had given up over 100 in five of their last six games but have been able to outscore opponents late, but with Kris Dunn having a 1-for-8 night, they didn’t have his usual burst in the fourth quarter.

And they needed something to combat DeRozan getting hot in the second half, as they opened the floodgates to a Raptors team that scored 103 points in the final 36 minutes.

All he needed was a little help, especially as backcourt mate Kyle Lowry was struggling a bit to get going. DeRozan found it on Delon Wright, whose energy matched the player he was drafted two picks in front of in 2015, the usually bouncy Bobby Portis. Scoring 15 of his career-high 25 in the first half, Wright infused the Raptors with his energy, often climbing amongst the trees inside for some of his career-high 13 rebounds.

He added five assists and four steals to complete the dominant performance, as the Raptors often went to a three-guard setup to stymie the Bulls. If not for his second quarter, there wouldn’t have been a competitive game in the fourth for the Raptors to wake up and take control of the game.

“The bench really saved us tonight,” Raptors coach Dwane Casey said. “They came in and gave us energy. We couldn’t get our mojo going with our first unit. Delon came in, had a career-high and I really like the way he’s going up for rebounds.”

The Bulls’ second unit? The one that seemed to buoy them over the past couple weeks with energy and movement, overwhelming defenses? It devolved into a bunch of shot-hunting in the second quarter as the Bulls coughed up control of the game and a 10-point lead within minutes.

“The biggest thing we talked about is coming out with a defensive edge,” Hoiberg said. “We did it, but didn’t sustain it.”

The numbers will say the Bulls shot a respectable 52 percent in the period, but the eyes say guys were looking to get theirs, abandoning the ball movement that had become so fruitful recently.

“We were hunting shots,” Hoiberg admitted, as if he could lie about what was obvious to anyone watching. “And when they went on their run, we got to move it, and get good solid possessions. We were coming out and jacked up contested shots with zero or one passes. And you can’t have that.”

Amazingly, this bunch hasn’t yet turned on itself, and Wednesday could be an anomaly—this was their third game in four nights and if one is keeping track of the schedule, the start of another three-game in four-night stretch with a back-to-back in Dallas and Indianapolis looming.

It could be easily written off or the Bulls could’ve been playing with fire this entire time, free-wheeling and aggressive, scoring well into the 110’s and 120’s for the past several weeks.

Freedom has its benefits, within structure and the Bulls seemed to be a little too liberal with it, especially since they didn’t defend for the third straight game dating back to their New Year’s Eve loss to the Wizards where they surrendered 31 in the fourth quarter followed by 29 in the fourth to a Damian Lillard-less Trailblazers squad.

Portis wasn’t his usual self, and energetic David Nwaba played 16 nondescript minutes, being a team-worst minus-18 in his time.

Nikola Mirotic stayed aggressive in his 25 minutes, going seven for 17 to score 20 points. Eleven of those came in the fourth after the Raptors used a 16-4 run to turn a tie game into a 106-94 spread, and the Bulls never seriously threatened after.

“We just didn’t have enough grit tonight,” guard Justin Holiday said. “We let them score 103 points in three quarters and that’s not good. Defensively we didn’t do our job. Hats off to them. They have great players, but we didn’t do a good job defensively. That’s pretty much it.”

Holiday did his best to match DeRozan, scoring 26 and hitting six triples of his own, including multiple four-point play opportunities—which is becoming a quiet hallmark.

Lauri Markkanen had his way with Serge Ibaka, scoring 22 with 12 rebounds, often scoring inside early on switches with smaller guards and then later taking Ibaka off the dribble for smooth, veteran-like midrange jumpers.

But it wasn’t nearly enough, as the Bulls don’t have the margin for error to go shot-for-shot with more talented, experienced teams.
It bit them in the behind.

“The fourth quarter comes down to—you have to have your winning mentality,” Hoiberg said. “They were the team that came out and threw the first blow, and we never recovered.”

Draft night highlighted the unfulfilling feeling of this past Bulls season

Draft night highlighted the unfulfilling feeling of this past Bulls season

The door has officially been closed on the 2017-18 season for the Chicago Bulls, and the word that most comes to mind is “unfulfilling.”

Or maybe even “indistinguishable.”

Draft night was supposed to be a culmination of a painful seven-month stretch that only had occasional yet costly moments of light.

Death lineup? Meet Death March. And Death April, while we’re at it.

The Bulls brass sold everyone on a full rebuild after trading Jimmy Butler one year ago, with an unspoken promise that this draft would bear franchise-changing fruit—hence the general feeling of angst or even indifference with the solid selection of Wendell Carter Jr. and their not-so-secret affection of Chandler Hutchison.

It was why fans believe the Bulls got cold feet about trading to move up, and why they believe the Bulls weren’t being pragmatic in staying away from Michael Porter Jr.

Porter, some believe, has star written all over him given his prep ranking this time last year and the Bulls were in position to speed up this process without having to go into a painful Process.

They were desperate for a star, believing the tankathon had produced so much suffering it had to be something on the back end.

There was the fight (or the punch).

The aftermath.

The miserable 3-20 start.

The 14-7 streak that produced the audacity of hope.

The reality that 14-7 was damaging enough to the lottery chances that a 3-11 finish couldn’t rectify.

And finally, the coin flip that cost them five spots in the lottery one month ago.

So that empty feeling has less to do with Carter and Hutchison, who’ve done nothing to earn the “blah” reaction from the fan base and some media. It has everything to do with the unanswered questions over the last 82 games and lack of clarity over the three hauls from draft night last year.

It’s not that Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen and Kris Dunn underperformed individually last season, but the lack of cohesiveness due to injuries and circumstances has led to the varying thoughts.

LaVine is approaching restricted free agency and by all accounts is taking his continuing rehab in Washington very seriously.  Markkanen has added plenty of muscle since the offseason began, appearing as if he can play Michael B. Jordan’s in-ring foil in the next installation of “Creed” as Ivan Drago’s long lost son.

And despite the report about Dunn not working as hard on the floor this offseason, that would be more of a concern if this were late August, not June.

The last time they were seen together on the floor, they looked no closer to a pecking order than the day they arrived.

What we know is that they’re productive NBA players, capable of putting an individual tattoo on a game at a moment’s notice, skillful enough to take your breath away.

And for whatever reason, the expectations changed once the three displayed they could be dynamic on their own—a star needed to be anointed and groomed to go with the star they believed was coming their way after the season.

Management is fully behind Markkanen, but Paxson’s strong words about LaVine at the season-ending news conference illustrated how much it feels LaVine has to prove next season.

With his restricted free agency status looming, the Bulls’ initial offer will show how much they value him until and if he gets a better deal on the market.

And the fact the Bulls weren’t afraid to draft Trae Young while having a healthy debate about Collin Sexton on draft night has to show they have at least some skepticism about the future at point guard.

But stars—developing stars, acquired stars, drafted stars—have to do it on their own. No amount of promotion or prodding from management will validate their faith, if that’s the route the Bulls choose to go.

This has to be a meritocracy or it won’t work and, honestly, it’s time for a reality check.

All the worry about the Bulls getting back to title contention sooner rather than later seems like folks getting ahead of themselves.

The front office has taken its share of shots from media and fans, so some questioning is earned but they’re right about one thing. Rebuilds aren’t completed in a day or 12 months.

Expecting some magic potion to arrive in the form of a top draft pick isn’t going to cure what ills this roster, and it doesn’t seem likely all the cap space will result in a free agent choosing the Bulls over the usual suspects.

However, methodical building can look like complacency if not done with a sense of urgency.

And with urgency in mind, this past season was unsatisfying to say the least—heading into the next phase with two more young pieces to develop while the first three are still in the evaluation stage.

Loyola's March Madness hero Donte Ingram will play with Bulls' Summer League team

Loyola's March Madness hero Donte Ingram will play with Bulls' Summer League team

Donte Ingram's 2018 keeps getting better and better.

The March Madness hero, who buried a game-winning 3-pointer in the first round of Loyola's win over Miami, will play on the Bulls' Summer League team.

Ingram, a Simeon Academy graduate, had himself an incredible senior season with the Ramblers, who advanced all the way to the Final Four as a No. 11 seed.

In five NCAA Tournament games Ingram averaged 7.0 points, 5.8 rebounds and 1.6 assists for the Ramblers. He also had 18 points in the MVC Conference Championship Game to secure the Ramblers' March Madness berth.

He'll join first-round draft picks Wendell Carter Jr. and Chandler Hutchison on the Las Vegas Summer League team, which will begin play early next month.